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Mike Figliuolo


Leading Your Team Through Failure and Success

It’s all about finding balance

Published: Thursday, March 24, 2016 - 13:01

Finding the right balance between how you handle success and failure makes a tremendous difference in the motivation level of your team members. There are some simple techniques for celebrating success and dealing with failure. Apply them and you’ll find your team is happier and more effective.

When you lead a high-performing team, you’ll face plenty of situations where you’re dealing with success and failure. Success and failure are part of running a team day to day. You need to recognize and promote “wins” because this is going to build momentum for the team and make them feel like they’re accomplishing great things. When they fail, you need to accept that failure as a learning opportunity and help the team grow.

Celebrating success

There are a lot of great ways to acknowledge success. You can give people bonuses, provide them visibility opportunities, or ensure there’s public recognition of their efforts. You can give people increased responsibilities and even promotions. All of those are very effective ways to celebrate the success of your team members.

But remember, just because you think something is valuable doesn’t mean the team member feels the same way. You need to understand what personally motivates each person as an individual, and then reward that team member accordingly. If you’re not thoughtful about it, something you think of as a reward may be horrible from that person’s perspective.

For example, imagine you have someone on your team who is very introverted. They do a great job and you want to reward them. You decide that you’re going to celebrate their success by putting that person on stage in front of a large audience. You then tell them, “Here’s your opportunity to shine and share your initiative with 50 people!” That introvert might really hate that situation and he or she may feel very uncomfortable. Even though you thought you were rewarding the person in celebrating the success, you’ve turned it into a bad experience.

Perhaps you have somebody who’s very happy in their current role. This person may like the current level of responsibilities because it allows him or her to have a proper work/life balance. You notice that this person is doing a great job and you want to celebrate that success. You decide to give the person a promotion with more responsibilities. Now he or she might be very stressed out and unhappy because the person really enjoyed the old role, and that wonderful promotion you provided is more of a punishment than anything else.

As you’re thinking about celebrating success for your people, put yourself in their shoes and ask, “What would this individual really value?” Be sure you communicate that person’s success to the rest of the team. It helps build momentum, and creates a culture of winning among those team members. People will feel proud to be associated with teammates who are doing such great things.

Working through failure

As much as we like to celebrate success, there are going to be failures. They’re not fun and they can derail a team if you don’t handle that failure well.

When there is failure, the first thing to do is avoid blame. Turn the situation into a learning opportunity. This failure is not about the individual and it is not personal. This is about behaviors and choices we made that didn’t work out well. Find the opportunity to turn those moments into lessons learned. Think through what future actions can be taken that will help avoid these failures the next time around.

There are a few principles for dealing with failure. First, fail as a team. Deconstruct the failure, and understand the root causes. Identify all the places where the team could have improved. Understand if it was a process failure or failure to share information from one team member to another. Try to never make the failure about the individual. Instead, look at the processes the team is following and where those broke down.

Even when there’s failure, praise people for taking a risk. We should always be making risk/reward trade-offs. If you’re not encouraging people to take risks, you’re going to create a risk-averse culture where people are paralyzed and won’t make decisions. If they’re not making decisions, you’re not going to get the upside of them taking action. When you talk about failure, help people appreciate the situation. That conversation might sound like this: “Here is the risk we took. Here’s what we thought the odds were. Here was the result and it didn’t work out well. In retrospect, here were the actual odds. Next time around, how do we do this better?” Praise the risk-taking and think about how you can reduce the risk you face in future situations.

Finding the balance

Your job as a leader, in terms of success and failure, is making sure you celebrate successes at every opportunity. Do so in a way that’s going to be targeted to the individual you’re trying to reward. When there’s failure, avoid making it about the individual and instead, focus on, “What are the things that we, as a team, did wrong, and what can we do differently the next time?” Taking a healthy approach of striking a balance between success and failure will help you build momentum for your team and keep team members engaged and excited.


About The Author

Mike Figliuolo’s picture

Mike Figliuolo

Mike Figliuolo is the author of The Elegant Pitch (Weiser, 2016) and One Piece of Paper (Jossey-Bass, 2011), and co-author of Lead Inside the Box (Weiser, 2015). He’s also the managing director of thoughtLEADERS LLC, a leadership development training firm. He regularly writes about leadership on the thoughtLEADERS Blog.